Arming settlers: A licence to kill?

Arming settlers: A licence to kill?
5 min read
01 December, 2014
The decision to ease weapons restrictions on settlers in the occupied territories places Palestinians at the mercy of already hostile colonists.
Arming settlers will increase violence against Palestinians, say analysts [Getty]
Israel's public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, has eased restrictions on the sale of weapons to help arm settlers in the occupied territories.

This will make it easier for Israelis to obtain firearms, especially settlers in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. Some political analysts believe it will even pave the way for a "settler state" in the West Bank. Palestinians and Israeli human rights organisations have warned it will cause an increase in crimes against Palestinians.

Less than a week after restrictions were lifted, the number of Israelis buying firearms has increased ten-fold compared with a similar period last year, according to Adil Shadid, an expert in Israeli society.
     The number of Israelis buying firearms has reportedly increased ten-fold.

Palestinians respond

The decision did not surprise Palestinians who are used to seeing armed settlers during their daily attacks on Palestinian towns and villages. However, the Palestinian Authority's failure to issue an official response was suprising, especially as this will leave 2.8 million unarmed Palestinians facing 750,000 settlers with full gun rights.

A Palestinian official, who did not want to be named, said the issue was not a priority for the PA, which had to deal with the Palestinian-Arab proposal to end the occupation, the schism between Fatah and Hamas, US pressure to return to negotiations with Israel as well as Gaza reconstruction.

Tawfiq Tirawi, a member of Fatah's central committee, however, described the Israeli decision as "dangerous", with the potential "to lead to an unpredictable wave of violence".

The PA and Israel both forbid Palestinians from owning weapons, even though Israeli settlers control 60 percent of the occupied West Bank, receive military training and live in militarised settlements, deemed illegal under international law.

The PA, meanwhile, considers any weapons not belonging to its security forces illegal, and their owners may be punished with a lengthy prison sentence.

Since the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Fatah's military wing, was officially disarmed in 2005, possessing weapons has become a crime. However, they have not completely disappeared - especially in refugee camps, where weapons are sold on the black market at inflated prices.

"The PA turns a blind eye to the large amounts of cannabis being widely used in refugee camps near Nablus, however you can barely find weapons or ammunition," said one Fatah activist living in one of the camps.

This leaves Palestinians fighting the occupation little option except to carry out individual operations such as kidnappings, stabbings and attacks with vehicles.

At the same time, radical groups in Israeli settlements have ramped up their attacks - vandalising mosques and olive groves, and attacking Palestinians with rocks and gunfire.

Many of the Israeli settlers in the West Bank are the third generation born in settlements built on Palestinian towns and villages.

Settlers living under Israeli civil law in the occupied territories are dealt with by the Israeli police (AFP)

Many of these settlers are even hostile towards their own government, which they accuse of being too lenient towards Palestinians. Anger against the Israeli government has increased since settlers were evicted from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

A total of 22 members of the Israeli parliament live in settlements. Activists from far-right settler groups have spread themselves across a number of different political parties to increase their influence.

The extremism of Israeli settlers is best represented by the Hilltop Youth, a group that establishes outposts outside existing settlements. These outposts are considered illegal even by Israeli law, but they appear to be destroyed only rarely. 

Hilltop Youth are also known for carrying out "price tag attacks", in which they vandalise Palestinian property after the outposts are destroyed by the Israeli army.

An official at the Israeli human rights organisation, B'tselem, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that settler groups had established more than a hundred illegal outposts on Palestinian land. None are officially recognised by the Israeli government.

Estimates suggest there are more than 800 armed and trained Hilltop Youth members in Jerusalem and the West Bank who have carried out attacks against Palestinians.

These activists have received intensive ideological and military training, and hold a deep hatred for Palestinians. They have also received training on how to deal with being interrogated if they are arrested by Israeli authorities.

Abdul Majid Suailim, a political analyst, believes the Israeli decision to ease weapons restrictions is a preamble to a unilateral withdrawal of occupying forces from the West Bank.

This would leave 40 percent of the West Bank isolated and unarmed under the PA's control. The remaining 60 percent would be controlled by settlers, making the decision the first step towards establishing a settler state in the West Bank.

Israeli affairs analyst Adil Shadid said he believed Israel's decision would create "licensed killers" in an already heavily militarised society with an unjust judicial system.

According to Israeli legal organisations, 96 percent of Palestinian complaints against settler attacks are ignored. "This reflects the Israeli belief Palestinians can only be dealt with by force," said Shadid.

Karim Jubran, a member of B'tselem, said he believed the Israeli government's lenient attitude towards settlers had normalised attacks against Palestinians to such an extent they were happening in full sight of the Israeli army.

History repeats

     Palestinians cannot help but compare current conditions to those they suffered under the British Mandate.

Palestinians cannot help but compare current conditions to those they suffered under the British Mandate (1920 to 1948), which led to the Palestinian uprising of 1936. The British prohibited Palestinians from owning weapons, and those who violated this ban faced execution. At the same time, Zionist gangs increased their activities, and carried out multiple attacks against both Palestinian and British targets.

Issa Amr, the coordinator of the Palestinian group Youth Against Settlements, said the new gun law leaves Palestinians at the mercy of settlers. He said there were plans for settlers to organise into armed gangs to force Palestinians from the West Bank.

He added that the gun law would also eventually enable the Israeli government to use settlers to officially repress Palestinians.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.